As the Denver Post’s Saja Hindi reports, the forecast fiscal casualties for the state of Colorado as the General Assembly looks to un-pause the 2020 session later this month are piling up, with the massive revenue decline faced by the state putting the obligatory kibosh on a slew of Democratic policy priorities they began the year hoping to deliver to voters:
Colorado lawmakers won’t vote this year on a controversial bill to create a hybrid public option health insurance program, bill sponsors announced Monday.
The bill passed its first committee in March — the same week Colorado confirmed its first cases of coronavirus. It’s the second high-profile bill Democrats have given up on in recent days because of the coronavirus pandemic, the first being the paid family leave bill.
“This was an unwelcome coincidence that saw the very people struggling to afford health care be the first ones hit by a life-threatening health care pandemic,” the public option bill’s sponsors said in a news release.
The cruel irony of being unable to deliver in the midst of a pandemic on legislation that would have directly helped Coloradans with reduced health care costs is not lost on the supporters of Colorado’s quasi-“public option” plan, which in truth was going to be administered privately and wasn’t nearly the boogeyman the insurance and for-profit hospital industry made it out to be in ads that ran relentlessly months before the final scope of the bill was known. It’s a case of not having the initial investment to make for a much greater return down the road, and on the issue of health care that opportunity cost translates directly to a cost in lives.
As FOX 31 reports, there’s lots of pain coming for line-items Coloradans have already grown to love, like the highly popular full-day kindergarten Gov. Jared Polis championed in 2019:
FOX31 asked the Gov. Jared Polis if kindergarten funds could experience cuts.
“We’re going to tighten our belt and of course the state has balanced budget requirements. But we are going to do our best to keep the programs that are important to Coloradans intact,” said Polis. [Pols emphasis]
The state had just funded roughly $200 million for kids across the state in the last legislative session.
Another possible casualty is the popular senior homestead tax exemption, which as the Colorado Springs Independent reports has been given and taken away in prior austere years:
In November 2000, voters approved Referendum A, which modified the state Constitution by allowing a property tax reduction of up to one-half of the first $200,000 market value of a senior’s home to those who qualify, if the state can afford it, as determined by the legislature. To be eligible, seniors must be 65 years or older on January 1 of the year in which they apply. They or their spouse also must be the owner of record and have owned and used the property as their primary residence for at least 10 consecutive years. Disabled veterans also are entitled to the exemption.
The law took effect on Jan. 1, 2002, for taxes payable in 2003, but lawmakers voted not to fund the program in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
In March 2020, the state funding forecast noted $163.6 million would be needed to fund the homestead exemption. That includes $158.9 million for seniors and $4.6 million for disabled veterans.
As anyone who was following news from the state capitol during the last big revenue downturn, any bill that isn’t “revenue neutral” becomes extremely hard to pass when its cost will necessitate a cut elsewhere in an already declining state budget. The massive revenue shortfalls forecast by state economists may be offset to some degree by federal aid, but no one expects the state to be made whole–and the inability of our elected officials under the so-called “Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights” to take actions other state legislatures can to respond to this crisis, like more progressive taxation, means balancing Colorado’s budget as we are constitutionally required to do is going to be a series of painful reductive choices for the foreseeable future.
Colorado has been taught the lesson before. Maybe this time we’ll learn it, and summon the political courage to fix it.